The Perks of Oxytocin — and How to Get More of It

Oxytocin can help improve mood, fight stress, and even relieve pain. Here's how you can get the most out of it.

a person lying in a field of grass with their dog and laughing
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Your emotional health and the connections to the people in your life are just as important to maintain as your physical well-being — making the role of oxytocin particularly crucial. You probably know it as the hormone that helps with parental bonding after childbirth or as the title of a catchy Billie Eilish song, but it's much more than that.

Oxytocin is, at its core, a powerful hormone that promotes feelings of love and happiness. "Oxytocin keeps our bonds to other people strong," says Rocio Salas-Whalen, M.D., the founder of New York Endocrinology and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Health. "It affects our relationships, behavior, and moods, and it fosters generosity and trust," she notes. The hormone is produced by the brain and released by the pituitary gland when you're with the people you love — especially when you cuddle, hug, or kiss them — causing you to feel a surge of positive emotions.

But what are the other powers of oxytocin — and is it possible to get more if it? Here's what this hormone can do for you, plus how to increase oxytocin levels naturally.

The Effects of Oxytocin

Oxytocin has tons of benefits, but here are the best of the best.

Makes You Feel Connected with Others

Oxytocin is first and foremost a bonding chemical. And while it's essential in romantic relationships, it also shows up in just about every relationship you have. "It's a love hormone that makes us feel attached to our family and friends," says Dr. Salas-Whalen.

So getting a hit of oxytocin can be easy: "To increase your levels, spend time with those you love. That could be your partner, your child, or even your pet. Anyone who brings out loving feelings in you will make your brain release oxytocin, and you'll be happy and relaxed," suggests Dr. Salas-Whalen. And hey, you'll probably be the source for their oxytocin surge too. (P.S. Practicing self-compassion has also been shown to increase oxytocin levels.)

Helps Tame Anxiety

In today's hectic world, it's super common to feel tense and stressed — which can wreak havoc on your health. Chronic anxiety, for example, can cause health problems such as insomnia and headaches. Fortunately, oxytocin can help relieve that stress. According to a study in the journal Neuroscience, it modulates the body's response to stress hormones called glucocorticoids; it has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels, as reported by other research. "Oxytocin has an antidepressant effect; when our brain produces it, we feel happier and calmer," notes Dr. Salas-Whalen.

May Relieve Pain

Try oxytocin as a much more natural pain relief alternative to ibuprofen. Research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows that oxytocin may also help reduce muscle aches and even the pain caused by conditions such as migraines and IBS. And, although research on the long-term effects of use is lacking, studies in humans and animals have also found that it could be a good remedy for chronic pain. Further study into the hormone's analgesic effects is ongoing, but scientists are hopeful about its potential.

How to Increase Oxytocin Levels

Do these major perks have you wondering how you can increase your oxytocin levels, stat? Here are a few proven ways to get more of the hormone.

  1. Get together. Make time to hang with your partner, friends, and family. Whether it be a Zoom party or a dinner date, make plans with the people you love and reap the benefits. Also, snuggle with your pets as much as you can — physical contact will give you an immediate boost.
  2. Get touchy. Don't save all the snuggles for your pet, though: cuddling up with your partner or hugging your loved ones can give you the hormone boost you need. Or, next time you feel sore after a tough workout, ask your partner for a quick massage — their touch could boost your mood while relieving pain.
  3. Get physical. It's called the "love hormone" for a reason! Having sex has been shown to increase your oxytocin levels (and decrease your feelings of stress and anxiety, BTW). And yes, going solo counts, too.
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